John R. Powers, Author of Black Patent Leather Shoes, Dies at 67

By Robert Simonson
18 Jan 2013

John R. Powers, the author of the hit musical Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, died Jan. 17 of a heart attack. He was 67.



Mr. Powers first wrote Patent Leather, which comically assessed the effects of his Catholic upbringing, as a 1975 satirical novel. It was the second in what would become a trilogy of books about his experiences growing up in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood of Chicago.

The book was adapted into a coming-of-age musical, set in the 1950s, with music by James Quinn and Alaric Jans, in 1979. A hit, the musical ran for four-and-a-half years, becoming the longest-running show in the city's history. It then broke house records during two runs in Philadelphia. It was the longest-running musical in Michigan for a time, playing popular engagements at the Birmingham Theatre, a Nederlander winter stock house.

In 1982, it reached Broadway, opening at the Alvin Theatre, under direction by Mike Nussbaum, with choreography by Thommie Walsh. There, however, its record of success stopped. The production ran for only five performances. However, the show has had a long and healthy post-Broadway revival. It is given dozens of regional and community productions every year.

John R. Powers was born Nov. 30, 1945. His other books included "The Last Catholic in America," "The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God," "The Junk Drawer," "Corner Store," "Front Porch Blues" and "Odditude." In recent years, he had worked as public speaker doing motivational comedy and business speeches. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.